BANGKOK, Thailand — Regular bombings, killings and skirmishes between rebels and the military in southern Thailand have forced Thai authorities to finally grasp the scope of a conflict that has scarred thousands and changed the lives of millions. Previously, Thai police, military and politicians had dismissed the attacks as random violence committed by bandits or a handful of disgruntled Islamic militants. Such attempts to play down the carnage were dismissed by Western governments, who see the confrontation with ethnic Malay-Muslim separatists in the south as a persistent threat to regional security. Now, as the rebellion enters its sixth year, Thai […]

Enduring Conflicts and New Challenges for Obama in Africa

The inauguration of President Barack Obama was filled with tremendously moving images, perhaps none more striking than the crowds who gathered in Kogelo, Kenya — the birthplace of Obama’s father — to watch the ceremony. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the South African newspaper Business Day both compared Obama’s election to that of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president in South Africa. As elsewhere in the world, Obama’s task will be to maintain that enthusiasm in the face of real challenges. Although Africa has been billed as one of the Bush administration’s foreign policy successes, three conflicts continue to dominate […]

Taken as a whole, the European Union disposes of enormous foreign policy resources. Its population is larger than that of the United States or Russia. Its members have approximately 2,000 diplomatic missions. It provides more foreign aid than any individual country. Indeed, since its formation in 1993, the EU has striven to bolster its collective foreign policy capabilities, based on the underlying assumption that even the most powerful EU members will have more international influence when they unite around a common position and speak with a single voice than when they act alone. Yet, the EU’s Common Foreign and Security […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – It is uncertain what effect last week’s arrest of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebel leader Laurent Nkunda will have on peace prospects in Africa’s third largest country, where more than 5 million people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since internal fighting began a decade ago. While some people have hailed it as the biggest step yet toward ending one of Africa’s worst civil wars ever, others suggest that any celebration must wait until the new-found alliance between Rwanda and Congo proves durable. Nkunda, a 41-year-old former DRC army general who has led […]

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — In October 2007, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf deployed more than 25,000 security forces to Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan to fight against Taliban militants under the command of Maulana Fazlullah and restore peace to the picturesque valley. At the time, military commanders claimed that the whole mountainous region would be cleared of all militants within two weeks. The locals hoped the heavy deployment of security forces would be instrumental in defeating the rising tide of militancy that increasingly threatened their lives and property. Fifteen months later, the inhabitants of Swat valley are witnessing a completely different […]

ICC TRIAL TO TAKE AIM AT CHILD SOLDIER USE — Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court hope the impending trial of Democratic Republic of Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga will focus international attention on the plight of child soldiers, and serve as a warning to others around the world that use of children in combat will result in prosecution. Lubanga is charged with three counts of war crimes for recruiting child soldiers into the armed wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots group. Hundreds of children as young as 10, prosecutors charge, were kidnapped or recruited by Lubanga, then beaten, […]

In her Senate confirmation hearing last week, incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that American foreign policy under President Barack Obama must blend military, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, in equal measure. “We must use what has been called ‘smart power,’ the full range of tools at our disposal.” While consistent with Obama’s longstanding call for greater international cooperation to address the world’s problems, the idea of “smart power” gained widespread popularity in military and diplomatic circles during George W. Bush’s second term. Obama’s national-power strategy represents an evolution, not a revolution. At a speech at Kansas State University in […]

MADRID, Spain — Barack Obama begins his presidency with an unprecedented level of goodwill among Europeans, who are hoping he will reverse many of the unpopular policies that embittered transatlantic relations under his predecessor. As the contours of Obama’s foreign policy come into focus, however, much of the onus for smoothing the frayed relationship will lie with Europe, not the United States. Obama faces a daunting list of domestic and foreign policy challenges, at a time when the United States’ historic levels of debt — combined with the faltering American economy — will force him to call on Europeans to […]

ISRAEL MIGHT FIGHT FIRST, VOTE LATER — Even with the faint prospect of a ceasefire in the offing, there is talk of postponing Israel’s Feb. 10 national elections. For one thing, none of the parties has been campaigning; the public has been distracted (though not unduly dismayed: a recent poll showed only 10 percent of Israelis are against the Gaza incursion, and 82 percent believe Israel has not “gone too far”); and then there is the rather pious argument that a postponement would prevent resolution of the conflict from becoming a political issue. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is flying […]

The war between Israel and Hamas has sparked much hand-wringing, disagreement, and controversy. One aspect of the conflict, however, now appears beyond dispute: After almost three weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip, Hamas militias have proven astonishingly unimpressive on the battleground. For Hamas’ allies and backers in places like Tehran and Damascus, and among like-minded militants such as Hezbollah, it’s difficult to imagine anything but disappointment at the performance of the Palestinian Islamist force that had so thoroughly routed Fatah, its Palestinian rivals, only 18 months ago. There was never any reasonable expectation that Hamas would defeat the much […]

KUDAT, Malaysia — A recent escalation in violence on the troubled Philippine island of Mindanao has led Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to tighten international security across their maritime borders, and threatened to undermine U.S.-led peace efforts. From Kudat on the northern tip of Malaysian Borneo, south to Sulawesi in Indonesia and eastwards to the strife-torn southern Philippines, authorities have clamped down in response to mounting casualties, after a truce between the Philippine government and separatist Muslim rebels collapsed last year. Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur were to deploy battalion-force strength to their border areas, while Manila rolled out a plan […]

CAMBODIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY, BUT NO CLOSURE — Cambodia marked the 30th anniversary of the demise of the Khmer Rouge regime Jan. 7 with memorials for the suffering of millions. But the country remains haunted by the knowledge that perpetrators of Cambodia’s greatest crime have yet to stand trial for their crimes. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime held sway over Cambodia from 1975-1979, a period in which millions of Cambodians died from torture, overwork, starvation and executions. In early 1979, a joint Vietnamese-Cambodian force toppled the regime, bringing in a new government largely beholden to its Vietnamese allies. Some Cambodians object […]

Israel’s attack on Hamas continued through the weekend, despite Egyptian and French efforts to broker a ceasefire. With Israeli ground forces now poised on the outskirts of Gaza City, and with an expansion of the operation into the urban battlefields that represent Hamas’ greatest tactical opportunity for exacting losses on the IDF still a possibility, it is difficult to speak decisively about the military outcome of the ongoing fighting. But according to several American experts on Arab politics, while Israel might very well succeed — at least temporarily — in depleting Hamas’ military wing, so long as Hamas is still […]

Since the moment Israel decided to launch a major military campaign against Hamas to stop rocket attacks from Gaza, the experience of the 2006 war against Hezbollah has served as a template of all that could go wrong. Like this conflict, the 2006 war came after a serious provocation by a radical Islamic group whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel. As in this war, the 2006 war presented Israel with the moral and tactical challenge of fighting a force that targets Israeli civilians, yet hides among its own population and cries foul when non-combatants are killed. The war […]

War has evolved rapidly in the last 100 years, prompting historians and strategists to come up with new terms for new ways of fighting. They call mechanized warfare, which originated in the early 20th century, the third “generation” of war, and ideological warfare waged by guerilla groups the fourth. But what about guerilla-style warfare waged by non-ideological groups against traditional states — pirates, for instance, whose attacks can destabilize trade-dependent nations, but who don’t have strategic goals beyond just getting rich? Free-for-all violence, with indirect global effects, represents a fifth generation of war, according to some experts. And when it […]

In her WPR column analyzing potential brokers of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, Frida Ghitis did not consider a possible role for Russia — and with good reason. While Moscow has sought to position itself as a Middle East kingmaker for decades, its diplomatic initiatives have been noteworthy as much for their minimal results as for their persistence. At present, there is no reason to believe that Russia will have anything more than a negligible influence on the current Gaza crisis. In some respects, this is unfortunate, since it would be extremely helpful if Moscow were able to compel […]

For most observers, the brief war between Russia and Georgia last August only underscored the instability of the Caucasus region and the dangerous potential energy stored in its so-called frozen conflicts. Remarkably, though, the war’s immediate impact has actually led to a relatively more stable regional status quo. Dangerous Build-up The wars of the early 1990s, in which newly independent Georgia and Azerbaijan lost control of their Soviet-era ethnic minority regions, became formative experiences for the two young nation-states. In both countries, the popular nationalist narrative continues to promote the “return” of the breakaway territories as a sine qua non […]

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